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Sunday, 18 March 2012





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Pioneer writers in Sinhala literature

In this week’s column, I would like, briefly, to examine some of the pioneer writers in Sinhala literature and their seminal contribution to the growth of Sinhala as a literary language.

One of the important factors that led to the cross cultural fertilisation and the enrichment of contemporary Sinhala idiom is that most of the pre and post independent Sri Lankan writers were either bilinguals (Sinhala and English) and multilingual, particularly in the case of W. A de Silva, who not only read English literature and world literature in English translations available at the time, but also read and was influenced by French literature.

Although it is not possible within a limited scope to examine a vast corpus of literary works by pioneers in Sinhala literature it is quite possible to introduce them to contemporary English readers in a concise manner.

Evolution of Sinhala novel

In examining the evolution of the Sinhala novel in the 19th century, the very first series of fiction which can be considered as the rudimentary form of the Sinhala novel was known as Amutu Kata. Literary works by Bentara Elbert Silva (1894) were known as Amutu Kata. In the next stage of the evolution of the Sinhala novel, the fiction was given the term Pabada (Prabanda) and Nava Prabanda Kata (new fiction). For the first time, Piyadasa Sirisena used such terms as Pabanda and Nava Prabanda Kata for his literary productions. M.C.S Perera ( a prominent 20th century writer of Nava Prabanda Kata) who wrote fictions such as Mage Pembari (1906), Lanka Abhirahas (1907) and Sirimadura (1908) identified his literary works as Samaya Kata (Stories of the time). W.A Silva who was heavily influenced by Sanskrit literature and diction, had also used the term Nava Prabanda for his literary productions. The fictions by Alexander Welivita who subsequently became the Editor -in -Chief of the Sinhalese daily Dinamina and who wrote fiction such as Horunge Guhava (1912), Adara Hasuna ha Kavata Kata (1915) took the shape of Amutu Kata.

According to Punchi Bandara Sannasgala who compiled the voluminous book entitled History of Sinhala literature, “Martin Wickremasinghe who read early Sinhala fiction began his literary career with Leela. He describes it as a Rasavat Katandaraya (exhilarative read). He also used the word ‘novel’ in the book. The Sinhalese equivalent of English word ‘novel’, Navakatava, would have been used as a common term to describe fiction of such nature. ”

Sannasgala observes, “As these books were pleasurable reads, readers began to enjoy them. This, in turn, resulted in the surge of fiction. Most of such fictions commenced with either a gist of the content presented in the first chapter or an epigraph and to offer poems at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the fiction”.

W. A de Silva

W. A de Silva (1892-1957) was one of the major Sri Lankan writers who wrote over 20 books since 1909. The rich corpus of novels which were extremely popular of his time, included Siriyalata (1909), Lakshmi (1922), Higanakolla (1923), Kala Handa (1936), Radala Piliruva( 1936) and Pasal Taruniya (1939). Romance has been a prominent theme in W.A de Silva’s literary productions. Vijayaba Kollaya and Sumetra are major Sinhala historical novels. In novels such as Radala Piliruva, Silva severely attacked certain sections of society. Notably, he derived inspirations for his writings from English and French novels. It is obvious that Lakshmi was inspired by Rider Haggard’s She and Radala Piliruva by Moliere’s work. His literary works are highly influenced by Eastern and Western classical literature.

James de Alwis

James de Alwis (1823-1878) was a bilingual who did research in Sinhala and English. His introduction to the English translation of Siddath Sangarava which runs into 286 pages, discussed Sinhala literature, grammar and poetry, served as a reference book for English scholars who learnt Sinhala. The book published in 1851 still remains as a primary source. The book entitled Contributions to Oriental Literature or Leisure Hours and published in 1863 served as a major publication for English scholars who learnt Sinhala. He was known as an intellectual who translated not only Sinhala texts into English but also Palit texts. In 1863, he translated part of the Kachchayana Vyakaranaya into English and translated the entire text of Attanagaluvansaya into English in 1866.

Ven. Bambarande Siri Seevali

Among the prominent bhikkhus who substantially contributed to Sinhala literature was Ven. Bambarande Siri Seevali. He served as a lecturer at Vidyalankara Pirivena which later became the University of Kelaniya and was a writer of distinction. Among his books, Adyana Kalava, Kata Kalava, Jeevana Kalava, Palana Kalava , Chtra Kalava and Sitana Kalava were prominent. Some of his works include a Sinhalese translation of Bhagavat Geeta, Bauda Sishtacharaya, Bauda Lokaya and Bauda Satva Adarshaya.

Perhaps, the first and the most prominent satirist in Sinhala literature was Thenakoon Gorge William de Silva better known as T.G.W de Silva (1913-1990). His characters such as Bhagalavati Iskole Hamine, Kakadivpaya, Patpadagam are still famous among readers who enjoyed his cutting-edge wit at the expense of prominent personalities of the time. Some of his short stories were Visipahe Sundari, Sanskruti Polla, Abhidharma Mudalali, Daha Avurudu Thinduva, Agamati Oralosuva, Agamati Beheta and Maheshakya Koduva. Yaksha Gedara and Mahara Hamuvu Striya were his satirical novels.

T.B Ilangaratne (1913-1992) was a famous Sinhala novelist who contributed to popularise the genre of novel among readers. Some of his famous works are Anduva saha agama, Vilambita, Amba yahalovo (which was turned into a tele-drama), Tilaka Ha Tilaka, Sasara, Nadayo, and Denuvara Katava.

Mahanama Rajapaksa (Maya Ranjan)

Mahanama Rajapaksa (1913-1968) was a prominent Sinhala writer who wrote his fiction under the pseudonym of Maya Ranjan. His literary productions include Trojan Pura Sangramaya, Vidiya Bandara, Pandukabhaya Vana Sangramaya, Mage Rajjaya, Pitisara Minissu, Kalisama and Sukumara. His famous text Digamadulu Sangramaya was a Sinhala translation of an English literary text.

Some of the Sinhala writers of the early stage of Sinhala fiction in the post-independent era were Hemapala Munidasa (1903-1957), I.M.R.A Iriyagolla (1907-1973), C.E Godakumbura ( 1907-1977) , Vimalananda Tennakoon ( 1907-1983), Sagara Palansuriya (1908-1961) and David Karunaratne (1918-1981). Dr. Leel Gunasekara, former civil servant and one time Secretary to Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, made substantial contribution to Sinhala literature. Petsam and Atsana were prominent among his famous works.


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